As the race for the title begins to really heat up, United faced City in what was being touted as one of the most significant derbies in years, with both the red and blue half of Manchester vying for premier league glory. United and City had played out a drab 0 – 0 draw earlier in the season, with City boss Roberto Mancini being heavily criticised for his defensive tactics against the reds, a repeat of which was not desired by either sets of supporters. For City, there was unfinished business, after last season 3 dramatic last minute defeats to United, but with the title on the line there was also plenty at stake for Fergie’s side. As expected, City refered to their 451 formation, with Carlos Tevez up front on his own and 27 million striker Edin Dzeko benched for his first taste of the derby. United somewhat surprisingly chose to match this by dropping the premier league top scorer Dimitar Berbatov, leaving Wayne Rooney up front on his own to lead the line.
Despite both sides team selections appearing to be cautious, the game began in typical high octane fashion with neither side fully getting to grips with the game in the early exchanges. However, United were nearly dealt a nightmare early blow as David Silva wasted a glorious opportunity to put city 1 up inside 5 minutes, toe poking his shot wide of the post. Silva in particular was proving to be a constant source of worry for United, as the young Spaniard carried City forward, looking good on the ball and creating a few dangerous opportunities. Conversely, United struggled to settle into the game, as Rooney was left frustrated and isolated upfront, with only a few token crosses from Giggs to feed off. However, as United so often do, the reds punished City for not converting their good spell in the match into a lead, as on 40 minutes Nani latched onto a Giggs through ball and showing all the composure needed during such a big match slotted into the bottom corner past Hart.
With United holding a crucial lead at half time, the second half promised to be an exciting affair with City needing to attack in order to get themselves back into the title race. Yet it was United who looked the team in the ascendancy after the break, with Rooney beginning to threaten and being brilliantly denied on several occasions by the impressive Vincent Kompany. It was therefore against the run of play, when City were handed a lifeline after Edin Dzeko’s shot was fortuitously deflected off David Silva’s back into the bottom corner. With renewed hope, City again enjoyed a fruitful spell in the match, as they continued to probe and press the United defence, with the reds having Chris Smalling to thank for what was an outstanding display in the biggest game of the young defender’s career.
With both sides having been evenly matched throughout, it looked as though only a moment of high quality could break the deadlock. And on 78 minutes, United turned to Wayne Rooney, who emphatically produced such a moment. Some neat build up from United allowed Nani space to cross to Rooney, who almost effortlessly leapt into the air and struck an inch perfect bicycle kick into the top corner sending Old Trafford into raptures. On such moments titles are won. A tense 10 minutes followed, but despite piling bodies forward City couldn’t recover from Rooney’s wonder strike, and find themselves all but out of the title race sitting 8 points back and having played a game more.
In what was a game that failed to live up to the 4-3 epic played out last season, all the headlines rightfully belong to Rooney for single handedly changing the game for United. The result is significant, but not decesive for United who have bigger and tougher challenges to overcome if we are to win the title. What is for sure however is that United’s determination and will to win must remain as resolute as it was yesterday if we are to enjoy success come May time.
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